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A MODERN EVE

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by Johann Schwarzer

grade: 7.5

A Modern Eve reveals a cynical but also amused approach to married life. No one is really innocent, everyone, in this little film by Johann Schwarzer, has their own little, big secrets. The director, just as with all his other works, is never judgmental, but observes his protagonists with affection and benevolence and above all wants to give the audience a few minutes of light-heartedness.

Life as a couple

Film director and photographer Johann Schwarzer did not have much luck during his short career. Yes, because, in fact, his production company – the controversial Saturn-Film – was always boycotted by citizens and authorities, to the point of being forced to close in 1911, after only five years of activity. During these five years, however, numerous erotic films (the first films in Austrian film history) were made, many of them unfortunately lost, all characterised by subtle irony. One of the films that has come down to us, however, is the short film A modern Eve, made in 1907, which depicts an amusing family drama about a somewhat “overcrowded” marriage.

We find ourselves inside an elegant living room. A man and a woman are sitting at a table. Suddenly the waitress enters and hands a note to the man: he must urgently go to a café. The woman at first seems annoyed, but after her husband has left, she phones her lover and asks him to visit her. While her husband, therefore, meets his young lover at the café, she welcomes her beloved into the bedroom. No one seems to suspect anything.

A Modern Eve, therefore, reveals a cynical but also amused approach to married life. No one is really innocent, everyone, in this little film by Johann Schwarzer, has their own little, big secrets. The director, for his part, just as with all his other works, is never judgmental, but, on the contrary, observes his protagonists with affection and benevolence and aims above all to give the audience a few minutes of light-heartedness.

A few shots (specifically, five shots and three changes of scene) tell us about the life of a wealthy couple. The camera is constantly static, a sign that, unlike what was happening at the same time in the rest of the world, film equipment in Austria was still rudimentary. Particularly interesting in A Modern Eve, however, are two special factors: the colouring of the film and the editing. As was customary in the silent era, in order to best render the idea of changes of scene, of different locations, of the drama or lightness of certain moments or even of the various phases of the day, films used to be dipped in special aniline solutions in order to obtain the desired colouring.

This, then, is also what Johann Schwarzer did with A Modern Eve, in which, alongside an extremely simple and linear story, we also find a rudimentary but extremely effective alternate montage as we witness the vicissitudes of the two clandestine couples. As we know, this technique would be extensively experimented in the years to come by David W. Griffith, but it was already beginning to fascinate filmmakers all over the world. The fact that Johann Schwarzer, in his precious little A modern Eve, thought of this is a sign of great foresight and an extraordinary desire to experiment with the newborn cinematic art. And who knows what other nice surprises he could have given us. It is a pity that no one noticed his exceptional talent at the time.

Original title: Eine moderne Ehe
Directed by: Johann Schwarzer
Country/year: Austria / 1907
Running time: 6’
Genre: erotic, comedy
Screenplay: Johann Schwarzer
Cinematography: Johann Schwarzer
Produced by: Saturn-Film

Info: the page of A modern Eve on iMDb